Pastor Wade's Blog

Happiness- Heaven's Serious Business!

In his excellent book, Happiness, Randy Alcorn writes, “Among Christ followers, happiness was once a positive, desirable word.” He then notes, “Only in recent times have happiness and joy been set in contrast with each other.” Alcorn adds, “I believe this is biblically and historically ungrounded and has significant downsides …”

After reading and rereading Alcorn's book, Happiness, I realized I was on the side of those who asserted a distinct, biblical difference between joy and happiness. In fact, I wrote a book titled, "Joy - Heaven's Serious Business”, and my premise was, "Joy isn't happiness because happiness is circumstantial."

The definition I used of joy versus happiness was not based on a thorough study of the subject but enunciated because that is what I had read or been taught by other great men of God.

If I ever republish the book, I’ll change the title to “Happiness - Heaven’s Serious Business.”

Unfortunately, this distorted understanding and division between happiness and joy has been a long-standing issue in the church. For example, in 1418 the Roman Catholic Church Council of Constance decreed, "If any cleric or monk speaks jocular words, such as provoke laughter, let him be anathema."

In contrast to the churches attitude toward happiness in the past, the typical church in modern America has for the most part imbibed the world’s understanding of the term and takes it to mean as long as a person is gratified, satisfied, and magnified, they are happy. So, most people say that their dominant desire in life is to be “happy.” This misunderstanding of true happiness makes me the goal of life and it encourages me to manipulate all circumstances to achieve my gratification. Also, it sees no purpose in life or its circumstances if my highest gratification is not achieved. Its motto is, “If happenings happen to happen happily, I will be happy; but if happenings happen to happen unhappily, I will be unhappy.”

Randy Alcorn's research reveals that one of the first people in modern history to really speak out against happiness and contrasted it with joy was Oswald Chambers, a man I greatly admire and one whose writings have enriched my life. Like me and so many others, Randy writes, "And I love Oswald Chambers! My Utmost for His Highest is a great book and so are other books that he wrote. But some of the dramatic anti-happiness things he said were pretty startling."

“For example, Chambers wrote: ‘Joy should not be confused with happiness. In fact, it is an insult to Jesus Christ to use the word happiness in connection with Him. We must continually remind ourselves of the purpose of life.’

“Again, he wrote: ‘Happiness is no standard for men and women because happiness depends on my being determinedly ignorant of God and His demands. We are not destined to happiness, nor to health, but to holiness.’

“Then Chambers makes and astounding statement: ‘Joy is not happiness; there is no mention in the Bible of happiness for the Christian, but there is plenty said about joy.’" This is an amazing statement coming from a man so well-versed in Scripture and is untrue.

Randy Alcorn responded: "While Chambers claim may be technically true, happy is found in the King James Version that he used twenty-nine times. Just as holy speaks of holiness and joyful speaks of joy and glad speaks of glad, obviously happy speaks of happiness."

Randy continues: "Forcing a choice between holiness and happiness is utterly foreign to the biblical worldview.

"The idea that “joy is not an emotion” promotes an unbiblical myth. Yet that statement appears online more than 17,000 times, virtually all of them by Christians. Most unbelievers rightly realize that happiness, gladness, and joy are synonyms, and they involve real emotions, which are not bad, but good."

John Piper said, “If you have nice little categories for ‘joy is what Christians have’ and ‘happiness is what the world has’, you can scrap those when you go to the Bible, because the Bible is indiscriminate in its use of the language of happiness and joy and contentment and satisfaction.”

There’s a long, rich history of equating joy with happiness in Christ. For example, Jonathan Edwards cited John 15:11 (“that [Jesus’] joy might remain in you,” KJV) to prove this point: “The happiness Christ gives to his people, is a participation of his own happiness.”

Charles Spurgeon said, “May you so come, and then may your Christian life be fraught with happiness, and overflowing with joy.” Spurgeon’s views of happiness and joy, evident in hundreds of his sermons, are completely contrary to the artificial wall the contemporary church has erected between the two.

The brilliant mathematician and Christian, Blaise Pascal wrote, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. They will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

Everybody wants to be happy. Perhaps we can’t put in words what we mean by happiness, but we know the desire for it stands behind much of what we do, and we know it’s not just one more thing we want, along with meaningful relationships and significant work and material possessions, but it’s the Thing itself, the reason for our pursuit of everything else.

Ask the typical Christian what God wants of them and they will probably answer, “To be good, go to church, try hard to live morally, serve Him faithfully, give up harmful habits, help others, read the Bible, pray and witness, etc.” But to have this attitude is to miss the very essence of the Christian life. God’s design is that we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever beginning right now. He wants His children to be exceedingly happy. In fact, the Christian faith was designed to be the most exhilarating, exciting, and enjoyable existence possible!

In spite of the extreme views of the concept of happiness, when we come to the scriptures, we find to our surprise that God commands us to be happy, joyous, blessed!

Psalm 34:7, "Delight yourself (seek, pursue your pleasure, your happiness, your satisfaction) in the Lord...."

Psalm 128:1, "Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways."

Psalm 128:2, "You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you."

Psalm 144:15, "Happy are the people who are in such a state; Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!"

Psalm 146:5, "Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God,"

Proverbs 16:20, "He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he."

John 13:17, "If you know these things, happy (The Greek word translated as "happy" is "makarios. It is defined in all the Greek lexicon as, "supremely blest"; "fortunate", "well off": "blessed", "happy") are you if you do them."

We should heed the advice of Randy Alcorn as he says: "If someone declares a desire to be happy, we should never say, “You just need to obey God and forget about being happy.” Rather, we should say, “God wired you that way.” Then we can ask, “Have the things you’ve thought would make you happy always worked out for you?” The answer is probably no.

"That’s the time to suggest, “Maybe you haven’t looked in the right place.” We can then present the Bible’s bad news, which explains the sin problem that makes them unhappy. Then we can share the good news of the gift of God that can reconcile them to their holy Creator and thereby make them eternally happy."

But if you continue to search for happiness without coming to saving faith in the holy, happy, loving, merciful, mighty God of the Bible, you will end up like the poet who said:

"I tried the broken cisterns, Lord, but, ah, the waters failed.
Even as I stooped to drink, they fled and mocked me as I wailed!

Happiness is Heaven’s Serious Business!

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